Dan Tudor

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Making Early Recruiting Work for You and Your ProgramTuesday, May 1st, 2018

Little by little, over the years, college coaches at all levels have been learning how to incorporate earlier recruiting into their everyday approach.

Not necessarily because they wanted to, but because they had to.

But now, whether you want to face it or not, learning early recruiting strategies are a must. New NCAA legislation continues to redefine what early recruiting means. Those same rules also set up new opportunities for your program to take advantage of, as well as new potential hazards to avoid. Whether your a Division I head coach, or you’re a part of a smaller college program, these emerging rules are going to alter the way you approach recruiting.

How the New Rules Will Redefine Your Recruiting

Quite simply, the emerging early recruiting rules change everything. Most traditional recruiting models will be undergoing radical shifts that has the potential to alter the course of programs around the country. Some of the primary ways I see that happening include:

  • Drastically shortening the time some coaches will have to recruit a prospective student-athlete. September 1st of an athlete’s Junior year in high school is going to be when the starter’s gun sounds, and the mad dash for the best athletes begin. In short, there’s a likelihood that the process that casually started with unofficial visits and parent-lead research and contact with programs and their coaches is now becoming more formalized, with stricter timelines as to how and when that contact can happen.
  • Bigger brand programs will probably have an advantage in this new recruiting landscape. Why? Because if no contact is happening until September 1st of the athlete’s Junior year, more programs will be fighting for the attention of that prospect at the same time. In the majority of cases, athletes will be more geared to look for, and respond to, contact from their “dream” schools, which usually include BCS programs or elite academic institutions at the Division I level.
  • Coaches will probably see their counterparts offering a prospect their scholarship package right away as an incentive to talk to them first (or at all), which means many coaches will feel compelled to match that offer – in some cases, sooner than they would like because they will not have been able to personally get to know the prospect and his or her parents during the unofficial recruiting visit process prior to their Junior year in high school.
  • Speaking of unofficial visits: They’ll continue to happen, but with far less frequency than before. If I can’t visit the coach and team of a sports program our family is interested in, I’m going to wait to see who is going to offer official visits on September 1st of my Junior year. If you aren’t offering me an official visit during my Junior year, will I assume you aren’t as interested in me as a coach compared to other programs who have invited me to campus? I think it’s likely, understanding the psyche and emotions of a student-athlete and parents the way we do.
  • The official visits you do get: There’s no longer room for error. Because we’ll be seeing a condensed time frame unfold quickly, and pressure from other competing coaches to make decisions sooner in the new process versus later, your campus visit has to be freaking awesome. Your ability to create a unique, athlete-lead experience is going to be the separator in more and more recruiting scenarios going forward.
  • Learning how to effectively recruit an athlete after he or she verbally commits will also become a priority. If the previous points hold true, and the process becomes more truncated, athletes are going to be more apt to second-guess their initial decision. Coaches will need to continue to recruiting those athletes that verbally committed to their programs, or risk losing them to programs that continue to reach out and contact them through the process.

New Hurdles – and Opportunities – for Division II, Division III and NAIA Programs

You aren’t a Division I school. You can’t offer full athletic scholarships, or you don’t offer athletic scholarships at all. Or, you’re a NAIA program that has never had to follow NCAA guidelines for contacting prospects. All of these situations can develop into significant hurdles, or significant opportunities, depending on how you and your program develop a strategy for them.

  • Division II programs, who may have had a chance to gain the attention of an athlete earlier in the unofficial visit process simply by showing a good prospect attention before their Division I counterparts decided to, may now find themselves waiting for their prospects to assess the Division I attention they expect to get as the new process gets started. If your approach to a new recruit copies a traditional message, I think it will be hard to get them to pay attention to you right away. Not in all cases, of course, but in many.
  • Division II programs will also have the chance to talk to prospects two months before a student-athlete will be able to hear from a Division I coach. What will you be talking about with them? How will it have the potential to keep you in the game once they do hear from a Division I coach? How are you going to stand out and be memorable when they compare you to your competition?
  • Division III and NAIA programs will have the opportunity to do the most the earliest with prospects. Coaches can contact prospects before their Junior year, which will give them a unique opportunity to define themselves sooner to their prospect, and over a longer period of time, compared to their Division I and II counterparts. For coaches that choose to take advantage of that additional time, it means developing a longer recruiting story.

What Doesn’t Change with the New Early Recruiting Rules

The athletes, and parents, who want to secure the best opportunity as early as possible. No legislation is going to quell the feelings of competitive, goal-driven prospects and the mom’s and dad’s who are whispering in their ear along the way in the process. The club, travel and private coaches who have influence over who an athlete considers will remain.

For you as a college coach, the central question in this emerging early recruiting reality becomes this:

How will you take the feelings of your prospects and parents into account? What will your approach be to match their wants with your process? Or, are you going to hope their drive and desire changes to match a new set of rules that have been adopted?

The new recruiting rules require you, more than ever before, to sit down with your staff, develop a timeline for making decisions on athletes sooner in the process, and be prepared to act quickly and decisively with the recruiting you really want.

In many ways, the newly adopted early recruiting rules have the potential to systemize a chaotic process and help coaches find recruiting sanity with a back-loaded timeline. What will make it work successfully for each coach is how (or if) that coach formats their strategy differently to account for the unique opportunities – and potential pitfalls – in this way of recruiting student-athletes.

Need help developing that strategy, and building an effective story that matches the new timeline for how early recruiting will take place? We work with programs and coaches around the country to develop that approach. If you’re interested in learning more about how we could work one-on-one with you, read about how to become a client, or email Dan Tudor at dan@dantudor.com.

First Class Boarding and Early Recruiting Lessons for CoachesMonday, February 5th, 2018

I fly a lot, and as a reward for my loyalty to American Airlines, I get upgraded to a first class seat a lot.

So I do what any traveler does when they are guaranteed a very good seat, with plenty of overhead storage availability: I show up early to try to be first in line.

And I’m not the only one. You’ve seen first class passengers waiting to board, right? Serious looks on their faces. Body language that tells others not try to cut in line. And when they’re called to board, they do it with authority. Serious looks, no nonsense, and competitive with each other…for no good reason.

Does it matter if I get on the plane sixth instead of first? No. Except when I get upgraded, something kicks in…a competitive spirit, and a desire to keep up with the other first-classers.

So, what does all of this have to do with recruiting? The mindset of many of your recruits.

There’s a psychology to being first that affects me when I’m line to board, and when your prospects are starting to get recruited. And since you’re not too worried about my irrational need to be competitive in the first class boarding line, let me focus on the student-athletes you’re recruiting – and the mindset they’re taking in to the process with you:

  • Many of your prospects have an innate desire to know where they’re going early. Really early. Not all of them, but a significant number. Especially when it comes to the best athletes. Why? Because for years, they been trained to think that if you’re a good athlete, you should know where you’re going earlier rather than later.
  • Many of your prospects want the security of knowing where they’re going. We as coaches would look at the news of a 7th grader committing to play their sport in college and cringe; the athlete, and the family, looks at it and feels a sense of relief…college is paid for, and they can relax and just enjoy their high school years.
  • Many of your prospects, through the process I’ve just described, feel validated that they are indeed a good athlete. Their hard work has paid off, and the parents look brilliant in the way that they’ve helped their son or daughter maneuver through the complicated recruiting process. That makes them feel good, along with their son or daughter.

Like boarding for first class, there is an almost irrational feeling of security that comes with getting seated – or committing to a college – earlier, rather than later.

My message in all of this is simple: Understand that your prospects’ desire to commit early, fueled by our country’s quietly effective subliminal message that ‘if you’re a good high school athlete, you will get early offers from college coaches’, seems normal and intelligent.

I’m not saying it’s right, and I’m not asserting that college coaches need to now recruit all of their athletes early. What I am saying is that college coaches need to understand what’s driving their motivation.

If you understand why they’re drawn towards the comfort, safety and validation of “boarding early” in the recruiting process, it should lead to you approaching the conversation with your prospects differently. Maybe it means you end up recruiting earlier, or maybe it means you tell your prospects and parents why you feel it’s smart to wait.

Here’s what I know: Not addressing early recruiting, either through changed actions or compelling words, isn’t an option anymore.

So what are you going to do?

Want to learn more about early recruiting, and how to do it the right way? Join us this Summer, along with coaches from around the country, at the National Collegiate Recruiting Conference. It’ll take your recruiting skills to the next level! Click here now

Early Recruiting Rule Changes, and What They Mean For College CoachesMonday, April 17th, 2017

It’s a fight that’s beginning to gain momentum.

Early recruiting, whether you like it, hate it, or just accept it as a necessary part of the college recruiting process, is one of the most debated topics among college coaches. And the ripple effect of the national conversation continues to force new approaches by college coaches, their coaching organizations, and the NCAA.

College lacrosse coaches lobbied for a ban on any recruiting contact before September 1st of a prospect’s Junior year in high school, which was approved by the NCAA. It halts the trend of Freshman and Sophomore contact in college lacrosse recruiting that many coaches were concerned about, citing their worry that it was putting too much pressure on families and younger players to make decisions before they were ready.

At the same time, the NCAA enacted several rule changes granting greater flexibility for college football programs to allow earlier official visits to campus for younger prospects, as well as an additional early signing period for prospects. It follows the lead of women’s basketball, which has started allowing for earlier visits to campuses in recent years.

Regardless of what you feel is the right course of action as college athletics continues to grapple with this issue, there are some recruiting truths about early recruiting that I feel are important for coaches to understand as they move forward:

  • In the mind of most parents and athletes, early recruiting – and early commitment – is seen as a good thing. I actually had the chance to fully explain this in 2016 while speaking on the topic at the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association convention, but in summary I’ll tell you this: According to our ongoing research and focus groups, both athletes and parents feel like early recruiting, and the chance to commit early, is validation that their hard work, extra time and expense, and dedication to their sport leading up to their high school career. In other words, it’s not necessarily a “bad” thing in their mind. For college coaches, it’s important to understand that they aren’t looking at the process from your perspective as a coach who has been through it all a few hundred times with different recruits. I’m not making a case for one side or the other…that’s outside of my influence. I simply want coaches to understand the perspective that they may find present in the minds of the families they recruit.
  • The other perceived benefit for prospects and their parents? Less stress. Many times we hear stories about the desire to “just have the process done” so that they can “relax and enjoy their last year of high school”. A more condensed timeline will result in more anxiety in the mind of your recruits and parents. For coaches, be prepared for that, and find ways to be the calming guide to lead them through the process that they will now have less time to navigate.
  • Explain why waiting is beneficial to them. That may seem like a very basic conversation, even one that isn’t needed, but it is. For the reasons in the first two points I’ve just talked about. If you want this generation of recruits to think differently about the process of making a decision, all of you need to be the voice of that side of the argument. This should be a part of your early, and ongoing, recruiting message.
  • Your recruiting message just became even more important. As the process is contracted into a shorter period of time, old-fashioned, vanilla, non-compelling messaging will not produce long term winning results. Whoever engages first, and continues to develop an interesting conversation the most consistently, will win. Another important point coaches need to understand: Simply because there are growing limits on when a coach can recruit won’t necessarily translate into the majority recruits holding off their decisions longer. I would expect to see many top-tier recruits making decisions within 90 to 120 days of being able to be contacted after September 1st, due to coaches putting accelerated deadlines on those recruits, as well as the aforementioned social conditioning to view early commitment as a good thing.
  • Did your sport just expand the availability to recruit earlier? You face the same challenge when it comes to your recruiting message. Getting the chance to talk to a prospect earlier than before means that you need to take a long term view of your communication. If the best you’ve got consists of a bland first contact letter, a few general emails about the program, and then attempted phone calls, you’re in for a rough fight with other programs using more advanced, more systematic approaches (or programs that offer more money, are part of a higher division level, or some other perceived advantage that they have in the eyes of recruits). Taking a serious look at your plan for answering the number one question in the mind of today’s recruit, “Why should I choose you over all the other schools that I’m hearing from?”, is essential as we enter this new era of college recruiting.

Early recruiting is a bit of a two-headed monster: Limit it, and you will need to alter the way you communicate in a condensed timeframe with your prospects who, at least for now, view early decisions as largely positive. Expand it, and you will need to meet the challenge of more engaging, more consistent messaging over a longer period of time.

How good is your staff’s plan, Coach?

A systematic approach that takes a research-based view of communicating with this generation of recruits exists. And, plenty of coaches in different sports and division levels around the country are utilizing it. You can find out more here.


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